Philippine-American War, 1899-1902

by Arnaldo Dumindin

May 19, 1898: Emilio Aguinaldo Returns


Filipino exiles in Hong Kong, photo taken in early 1898: Emilio Aguinaldo (sitting, 2nd from right) led 36 other revolutionary leaders into exile in the British colony. They were:  Pedro Aguinaldo, Tomas Aguinaldo, Joaquin Alejandrino, Celestino Aragon, Jose Aragon, Primitivo Artacho, Vito Belarmino, Agapito Bonzon, Antonio Carlos, Eugenio de la Cruz, Agustin de la Rosa, Gregorio H. del Pilar, Valentin Diaz, Salvador Estrella, Vitaliano Famular, Dr. Anastacio Francisco, Pedro Francisco, Francisco Frani, Maximo Kabigting,  Vicente Kagton, Silvestre Legazpi, Teodoro Legazpi, Mariano Llanera, Doroteo Lopez,  Vicente Lukban, Lazaro Makapagal, Miguel Malvar, Tomas Mascardo, Antonio Montenegro, Benito Natividad, Carlos Ronquillo, Manuel Tinio, Miguel Valenzuela, Wenceslao Viniegra, Escolastico Viola and Lino Viola.

In the run up to the Spanish-American War, several American Consuls - in Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila - sought Emilio Aguinaldo's support. None of them spoke Tagalog, Aguinaldo's own language, and Aguinaldo himself spoke poor Spanish. A British businessman who spoke Tagalog, Howard W. Bray, agreed to act as interpreter. Aguinaldo and Bray maintained later that the Philippines had been promised independence in return for helping the U.S. defeat the Spanish.

Some of the Filipino exiles and Spanish officers in charge of their deportation to Hong Kong. Emilio Aguinaldo is the central figure in the second row; to his right is Lt. Col. Miguel Primo de Rivera, nephew of the Spanish Governor-General. PHOTO was taken in Hong Kong in early 1898. 

1. Mariano LLanera  2. Anastasio Francisco  3. Pedro Paterno  4. Escolastico Viola  5. Agapito Bonzon  6. Gregorio del Pilar  7. Primitivo Artacho  8. Maximino Paterno  9. Vito Belarmino  10. Celestino Espinosa  11. Miguel Primo de Rivera  12. Emilio Aguinaldo  13. Joaquin Pezzi  14. Antonio Montenegro  15. Maximo Kabigting  16. Tomas Mascardo  17. Manuel Tinio  18. Wenceslao Viniegra  19. Benito Natividad   20. Melecio Carlos

Hong Kong:  Some of the exiles at a park with British acquaintances.  Photo taken in 1898.

In Hong Kong, Aguinaldo was told by U.S. consul Rounsenville Wildman that Dewey wanted him to return to the Philippines to resume the Filipino resistance.  

The San Francisco Call, May 18, 1898

Arriving in Manila with thirteen of his staff on May 19  aboard the American revenue cutter McCulloch, Aguinaldo reassumed command of Filipino rebel forces. Although he and Dewey spoke, no one knows the  substance of the discussions– Dewey only spoke Spanish, Aguinaldo spoke it poorly and there was no intermediary.

[Years later, Aguinaldo recalled a meeting with Dewey: "I asked whether it was true that he had sent all the telegrams to the Consul at Singapore, Mr. Pratt, which that gentleman had told me he received in regard to myself. The Admiral replied in the affirmative, adding that the United States had come to the Philippines to protect the natives and free them from the yoke of Spain. He said, moreover, that America is exceedingly well off as regards territory, revenue, and resources and therefore needs no colonies, assuring me finally that there was no occasion for me to entertain any doubts whatever about the recognition of the Independence of the Philippines by the United States."]

[Aguinaldo, in his book, "A Second Look At America," admitted he naively believed that Dewey "acted in good faith" on behalf of the Filipinos.]

Cavite Province:  A medic attends to a wounded Filipino soldier. Photo taken in May or June 1898.

Cavite Province:  The same wounded Filipino soldier shown in preceding photo is loaded onto a cart.  Photo taken in May or June 1898.

Five days after his arrival, on May 24, Aguinaldo temporarily established a dictatorial government, but plans were afoot to proclaim the independence of the country. A democratic government would then be set up.

In late May, Dewey was ordered by the U.S. Department of the Navy to distance himself from Aguinaldo lest he make untoward commitments to the Philippine forces.

The official directive was not necessary; Dewey had already made up his mind beforehand:   "From my observation of Aguinaldo and his advisers I decided that it would be unwise to co-operate with him or his adherents in an official manner... In short, my policy was to avoid any entangling alliance with the insurgents, while I appreciated that, pending the arrival of our troops, they might be of service."    [RIGHT, Aguinaldo's headquarters inside the Cavite navy yard, May 1898].

Dewey referred to the Filipinos as "the Indians" and promised Washington, D.C. that he would "enter the city [Manila] and keep the Indians out."

Filipino army supply train and escort, 1898.

Issue of May 31, 1898

Some of Aguinaldo's men, 1898

Issue of June 7, 1898

By early June, with no arms supplied by Dewey, Aguinaldo's forces  had overwhelmed  Spanish garrisons in Cavite and around Manila, surrounded the capital with 14 miles of trenches, captured the Manila waterworks and shut off access or escape by the Pasig River. Links were established with other movements throughout the country.

With the exception of Muslim areas on Mindanao and nearby islands, the Filipinos had taken  effective control of the rest of the Philippines.

Aguinaldo's 12,000 troops kept the Spanish soldiers bottled up inside Manila until American troop reinforcements could arrive. 

Philippine army soldiers are seen here guarding 3 Filipino judicial prisoners in the stocks. PHOTO was taken in 1898.

Aguinaldo was concerned, however, that the Americans would not commit to paper a statement of support for Philippine independence.

[John Foreman, American historian of the early Philippine-American War period stated that, "Aguinaldo and his inexperienced followers were so completely carried away by the humanitarian avowels of the greatest republic the world had seen that they willingly consented to cooperate with the Americans on mere verbal promises, instead of a written agreement which could be held binding on the U.S. Government."]

Spanish mestizas.  LEFT photo was taken at Manila's Teatro Zorilla in January 1894; RIGHT photo was taken in Cavite in 1898.

Photo taken in 1898 in Manila

Upper-class native Filipino women.  Photos taken in the late 1890's.

Native Filipino women.  Photo taken in the late 1890's.

Assembly room (LEFT) and library (RIGHT) of the private Universidad de Santo Tomas, at Intramuros district, Manila, in 1887. It was founded on April 28, 1611 by Dominican friars and until 1927 did not accept women (The same year that it moved to Sampaloc district). During the Spanish era, only affluent native Filipinos could afford to send their sons to the school. Now known as the University of Santo Tomas (UST), it has the oldest extant university charter in the Philippines. The UST produced four Philippine presidents and many revolutionary heroes, including Jose Rizal, the national hero.

The Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros district, Manila, and students, in 1887.  The private Roman Catholic institution, founded in 1620, was and still is, owned by priests of the Dominican Order. It catered to the sons of wealthy native Filipinos and did  not accept women until the 1970's. It produced four Philippine presidents and many  revolutionary heroes; it is the only Philippine school that has graduated a Catholic Saint that actually lived and studied inside its original campus (Vietnamese Saint Vicente Liem de la Paz).  Letran is the only Spanish-era school that still stands on its original site in Intramuros.

Scenes at the secondary school Ateneo Municipal de Manila, Intramuros district, Manila, in 1887.  Now known as the Ateneo de Manila University, a private coed institution run by the Jesuits, it began on Oct. 1, 1859 when the latter took over the Escuela Municipal, then a small private primary school maintained for the children of Spanish residents. In 1865, it became the Ateneo Municipal de Manila when it converted to a secondary school for boys, and began admitting native Filipinos who invariably came from well-to-do families. The Ateneo attained college status in 1908. It moved to Ermita district, Manila, in 1932.  The campus was devastated in 1945 during World War II. In 1952, most of the Ateneo units relocated to Loyola Heights, Quezon City. It became a university in 1959. It admitted women for the first time in 1973. The Ateneo produced many revolutionary heroes, including the national hero, Jose Rizal.


Manila:  Native Filipino schoolboys of the public Escuela Municipal de Instrucción Primaria de Quiapo.  Photo taken in 1887.

Montalban, Morong Province:  A little village school for girls under a big mango tree.  Photo, taken in mid-May 1894, includes 3 American businessmen.

Chinese merchants in Manila.  Photos taken in the late 1890's

Chinese merchants:  a chocolate-maker (LEFT) and a textile fabric manufacturer (RIGHT).  Photos taken at Manila in the late 1890's. 

Flipino fighters and some American soldiers.   Photo taken in 1898.

June 3, 1898: Spanish battery of two 8-centimeter caliber guns firing at Filipinos at the Zapote River bridge, Cavite Province. The Spaniards kept up a continuous fire with their field guns and Mauser rifles before charging the bridge.

June 3, 1898: Spanish soldiers on Zapote Bridge. It was a temporary occupation; the Filipinos, numbering about 500, counterattacked and sent the Spanish force of 3,500 reeling back.

Zapote Bridge in the early 2000's.

Filipinos moving captured Spanish cannon

Filipinos with captured Spanish field-piece

Filipino soldiers with their artillery in front of Fort San Felipe Neri, Cavite Province. Photo taken in 1898.

Filipino soldiers assemble in front of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Chapel in Parañaque, a few miles south of Manila. The Filipino army converted the chapel (built in 1776) into a storehouse and magazine. PHOTO was taken in 1898.

The San Nicolas de Tolentino Chapel in La Huerta, Paranaque City, contemporary photo.

Native Filipinos in the Spanish Guardia Civil, 1898.

Spanish soldiers and Filipinos in Spanish army with two Filipino POWs at Malabon, 1898.

Spanish troops in Cebu Island

The USS Olympia 

While awaiting the arrival of ground troops, Dewey welcomed aboard his flagship USS Olympia members of the media who clamored for interviews. Numerous vessels of other foreign nations, most conspicuously those of Britain, Germany, France, and Japan, arrived almost daily in Manila Bay. These came under the pretext of guarding the safety of their own citizens in Manila, but their crews kept a watchful eye on the methods and activities of the American Naval commander.

The German fleet of five ships, commanded by Vice Admiral Otto von Diederichs (RIGHT, in 1898) and ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests (a single import firm), acted provocatively—cutting in front of US ships, refusing to salute the US flag (according to customs of naval courtesy), taking soundings of the harbor, and landing supplies for the besieged Spanish. Germany was eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the Philippines might afford. Dewey called the bluff of the German vice admiral, threatening a fight if his aggressive activities continued, and the Germans backed down.

In recognition of George Dewey's leadership during the Battle of Manila Bay, a special medal known as the Dewey Medal was presented to the officers and sailors under Commodore Dewey's command. Dewey was later honored with promotion to the special rank of  Admiral of the Navy; a rank that no one has held before or since in the US Navy.


Years later in U.S. Senate hearings, Admiral Dewey testified, "I never treated him (Aguinaldo) as an ally, except to assist me in my operations against the Spaniards." 


Dewey was born on Dec. 26, 1837 in Montpelier, Vermont. He graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland on June 18, 1858. During the American Civil War he served with Admiral David Farragut during the Battle of New Orleans and as part of the Atlantic blockade.

He was commissioned as a Commodore on  Feb. 28, 1896.

On  Nov. 30, 1897 he was named commander of the Asiatic Squadron, thanks to the help of strong political allies, including Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.

He held the rank of Admiral of the Navy until his death in Washington, DC, on  Jan. 16, 1917.

General Emilio Aguinaldo

Aguinaldo was the first and youngest President of the Philippines. He was born on March 22, 1869 in Cavite El Viejo (now Kawit), Cavite province. He was slender and stood at five feet and three inches. He studied at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He quit his studies at age 17 when his father died so that he could take care of the family farm and engage in business.

He joined freemasonry and was made a master mason on Jan. 1, 1895 at Pilar Lodge No. 203 (now Pilar Lodge No. 15) at Imus, Cavite and was founder of Magdalo Lodge No. 3.

On March 14, 1896, he joined the Katipunan and for his name in the secret revolutionary society, he chose Magdalo, after the patron saint of Cavite El Viejo, Mary Magdalene. He was initiated in the house of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio on Cervantes St. (now Rizal Ave.), Manila

Aguinaldo married his first wife, Hilaria del Rosario of Imus, Cavite in 1896. From that marriage five children (Miguel, Carmen, Emilio, Jr., Maria and Cristina) were born.

When the revolution against Spain broke out on Aug. 30, 1896, he was the capitan municipal (mayor) of Cavite el Viejo.

Aguinaldo defeated the best of the Spanish generals: Ernesto de Aguirre in the Battle of Imus, Sept. 3, 1896; Ramon Blanco in the Battle of Binakayan, Nov. 9-11, 1896; and Antonio Zaballa in the Battle of Anabu, February 1897).

He assumed total control of the Filipino revolutionary forces after executing Andres Bonifacio on May 10, 1897

He was captured by the Americans led by Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston on March 23, 1901 in remote Palanan, Isabela Province. On April 1, 1901, he pledged allegiance to the United States. (His son, Emilio Jr., graduated from West Point in 1927, in the same class as Gen. Funston's son.)

On March 6, 1921, his first wife, Hilaria, died.

On July 14, 1930, at age 61, Aguinaldo  married  Maria Agoncillo,  49-year-old niece of Felipe Agoncillo, the pioneer Filipino diplomat.

On Feb. 6, 1964, less than a year after the death of his second wife, Aguinaldo died of coronary thrombosis, at the age of 95, at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City.

His remains are buried at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite Province.